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3 Healthy Ways to Compartmentalize Emotions

We can’t always turn off our big feelings, but we can develop techniques to prevent them from running our life. 


When something is weighing heavily on me, it settles into front row seats in my mind, talking loudly, spilling popcorn and demanding I pull my attention away from anything else that might come up during my day. I literally wear this issue on my face—I often am asked, “wow, what’s wrong?” when I wasn’t aware I was projecting struggle or negativity.

Recently, I’ve been paying more attention to how much attention intense situations actually warrant in a given moment, especially when other things—mundane daily tasks and meaningful events alike—are asking for a seat up front. These techniques have helped me compartmentalize my emotions in a healthy way, so I am in better control of how to address serious issues in their own time and place.

1)  Try “Extreme Focus”

When you feel the pull of a stressful situation, you might have the impulse to compartmentalize it by pushing it to the side. But sometimes it is more helpful to push everything else to the side and focus on your stressor in a technique entrepreneur Ryan Blair calls “extreme focus.” He recommends setting aside a short and well-defined period of time to go all-in on a given problem. When that time is up, though, it’s time to gently close that compartment and move on with your day.

2)  Create Healthy Boundaries

If there’s a person in your life who reminds you of a painful topic every time you get together, you might want to politely decline the next invitation to have coffee with them. You can’t be expected to compartmentalize in a healthy way if you are feeling pressured by your surroundings to dive into the deep end of a negative emotional pool. When you are feeling more secure in your thinking about an issue, reach back out to your friend and see what they are doing this weekend.

3)  Don’t Make False Connections

Not every emotion gets to have a compartment—not if you are going to move through each day with a balanced and positive mindset. Sometimes, there are problems, or small aspects of bigger-picture problems, that you can simply choose to let go of, disconnecting them from your most pressing challenges. You might be disappointed your sock drawer is still a mess, for example, but that doesn’t mean you should carry negative self-talk about your organizational skills to your office.

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